Assessment of human embryo development using morphological criteria in an era of time-lapse, algorithms and ‘OMICS’: is looking good still important?

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With the worldwide move towards single embryo transfer there has been a renewed focus on the requirement for reliable means of assessing embryo viability. In an era of ‘OMICS’ technologies, and algorithms created through the use of time-lapse microscopy, the actual appearance of the human embryo as it progresses through each successive developmental stage to the blastocyst appears to have been somewhat neglected in recent years. Here we review the key features of the human preimplantation embryo and consider the relationship between morphological characteristics and developmental potential. Further, the impact of the culture environment on morphological traits, how key morphological qualities reflect aspects of embryo physiology, and how computer-assisted analysis of embryo morphology may facilitate a more quantitative approach to selection are discussed. The clinical introduction of time-lapse systems has reopened our eyes and given us a new vantage point from which to view the beauty of the initial stages of human life. Rather than a future in which the morphology of the embryo is deemed irrelevant, we propose that key features, such as multinucleation, cell size and blastocyst differentiation should be included in future iterations of selection/deselection algorithms.

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